RECIPE: Classic Croissants
I've tried several croissant recipes and never gotten the exact results I wanted. All the croissants tasted good, just not quite right. Much of this was due to my learning the technique and attaining my own preferences (VERY flaky, SUPER buttery, crispy outside, tender inside). These croissants use a variety of methods that I've picked up as I've tried other recipes (The Kitchn's, Food52's, and Weekend Bakery's were all great starts) and found what works best for me. They are crispy-crisp and flaky on the outside, layered and soft on the inside, and are (dare I say it) even more delicious with your favorite chocolate rolled in (pain au chocolat anyone?).
*WARNING: Croissant baking is best done as a several day process. It is time consuming AND giving yourself several days will not only ensure better results (not rushing the dough), it will keep your arms from being very sore.
- 6 ounces whole milk, warmed
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 6.25 ounces flour
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 14 ounces whole milk
- 24 ounces flour
- 2.5 ounces sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Chilled, Roll-in Butter
- 20 ounces butter, chilled but workable
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Poolish (Day 1)
Prep: 10 minutes Rest: 3 - 8 hours
Total: 3 - 8 hours + change
Not all croissant recipes require a poolish, but all should in my (not really important) opinion have some kind of preferment. Using a preferment made all the difference in my croissant baking. A preferment is basically a portion of bread dough made before the rest of the dough. The preferment is given time to ferment before being combined with the rest of the dough, making for a more developed flavor and a better dough structure. There are a variety of preferment methods and types and you can spend a good deal of time learning more about them. This particular method is a poolish, which is one of the more common. It has equal parts liquid and flour, includes yeast, and has no salt (salt or no-salt is a distinguishing factor in preferments).
To begin the poolish, pour 6 ounces of milk into a heavy-bottomed pan and warm over low heat. Do not bring to a boil. The milk should be between 80 - 90 degrees and you should be able to comfortably touch the milk without scalding your fingertips. Remove milk from the heat and transfer to a medium bowl. If you have a kitchen or candy thermometer, it never hurts to check because if the milk is too hot you'll kill your yeast (actually) and your lovely croissants won't rise. Add yeast to the warm milk and stir to combine. Add flour. Use a wooden spoon to combine until you have a sticky, smooth dough. Cover with kitchen towel or plastic wrap and leave until doubled in volume. At room temperature, this will take 3 - 4 hours. You can also leave the poolish in the refrigerator overnight. I did the former.
Croissant Dough (Day 2)
Prep/Active Work: 30 minutes
First Rest: 20 minutes
Second Rest: 2 hours
Final Rest: 6 - 8 hours
Total: 7 - 10 hours + change
*SECOND WARNING: Croissant baking is a dish best served over several days! Just be patient!
*THIRD WARNING: I mix by hand, so if you are using a standing mixture cut the noted mixing times in half.
After poolish has doubled in size, add 1 tablespoon of active dry yeast and work into the mixture. The poolish may be tacky and elastic at this point. Add half the milk, 7 ounces, to the poolish and mix with hands or in standing mixer with bread hook attached. If using hands, you'll notice that the poolish will not at first want to combine with the milk. Just keep breaking it up and eventually they will combine into a wet mixture. It's fine if the preferment stays a little bit goopy at this point.
Add remaining milk, flour, sugar, salt, and melted butter. Mix with hands for about 10 minutes until the dough has fully come together into a smooth, elastic ball. If the dough is too sticky (like you actually feel trapped inside it), add flour a tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too tough, add milk a tablespoon at a time. Avoid this as much as possible and keep in mind that as you work with dough, it will become less sticky/tough. This is one of the stages where it helps to try recipes multiple times. The more familiar you are with the feel of the dough, the better you'll be at gauging when to stop working it.
Cover with plastic wrap or towel and let dough rest until doubled in size, about 2 hours. After this rest, place dough on floured surface and press into a rectangle about 2 inches thick, cover tightly with plastic wrap or place in a container with a lid, and rest in refrigerator 6 - 8 hours or overnight. Keep in mind that this rest is good for the dough and you shouldn't rush it.
Roll-in Butter (Day 3)
Prep: 20 - 30 minutes Rest: 10 minutes
Total: 30 - 40 minutes
Don't begin this stage until your croissant dough has completed the final rest. The roll-in butter is folded into the dough that you made almost immediately after it has been shaped into malleable block. If the butter is too cold, it will be too stiff. If it's too warm, it will melt into the dough. Both bad!
Cut 20 ounces of butter into smaller pieces and form into a square about 15 cm x 15 cm on a silicon mat or nonstick surface dusted with flour. Sprinkle one tablespoon of flour over the butter and beat with French rolling pin. I find it easiest to keep a hand on the side of the butter furthest from where I'm beating to keep the butter in place. If the butter begins to stick to the pin, sprinkle a little bit more flour and continue. When the butter has begun to come together, use a pastry scrapper to flip the butter over. This is great for working the butter and makes sure that the butter doesn't stick to the surface you're working on. Sprinkle another tablespoon of flour over the butter and begin beating. Once the butter has come together, measure and cut the cube into a 17 cm x 17 cm square. Pound the extra butter pieces into the cube and straighten edges of butter again.
Refrigerate the butter no more than 10 minutes while you prepare the dough.
Laminate the Dough
Prep: 1 hour Rest: 3 - 8 hours
Total: 4 - 9 hours
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and onto a nonstick and floured surface. Roll into about a 26 x 26 cm square. If at any time the dough is resisting, give it a rest. It's okay if the dough isn't exactly these measurements. I killed myself trying to get precise measurements the first few times I baked croissants and I ended up with overworked dough. Your goal should be to have a square that is larger than your butter, enough so that the entire dough can fold over the butter (think butter in a safe, dough box or full-body sleeping bag). Remove butter from refrigerator, place in the center of the dough. Bring each corner of the dough to the center of the butter, tightly closing the dough seams over the butter. No butter should be visible at this stage.
You'll now do the first "turn." On a well floured surface, roll the dough into a 20 cm x 60 cm rectangle. Again, don't force the dough. If it is difficult to roll, stop and rest the dough in the refrigerator for ten minutes. After you've reached a nice, long rectangle, fold the left end just short of the center, then the right end of the dough over top of that. It should resemble a thick book. That's your first turn!
This process of rolling out the dough with the butter and folding it is called "laminating the dough." You are creating layers of dough and butter and you want lots of these! These layers are what make the croissants nice, flaky, and layered on the inside. If the dough is cracking, add a little flour. If the dough is sticking to the surface, don't be afraid to flip it over and work the other side.
Some recipes call to immediately perform the second and even third turns at this point. I prefer to rest my dough for an hour between each turn to make sure the butter doesn't get too soft and to give the dough lots of time to rest. This is your call. You'll do four turns overall, each time getting the rectangle as close to 20 cm x 60 cm as you can. If butter begins to show or if one area isn't as stretchy, add a little flour there and continue. Don't be afraid to use flour! After each turn, it's helpful to make little sink marks in the dough designating which turn you've completed (two finger marks for two turns, three finger marks for three, etc.).
After four turns, rest the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to overnight.
Build the Croissant (Day 4)
Prep: 20 minutes Rest & Proof: 2 - 3 hours
After you've completed your final turn and rested the dough, remove it from the refrigerator and roll into a rectangle about 20 cm x 80 cm. If the dough is resisting, let it rest. You don't want to stretch and break the dough after all your hard work.
Once you've reached the desired length, you'll divide the dough into croissants! I do this by starting at the top left corner, measuring out three inches, and cutting from the end of the third inch down to a point at the opposite end. This will make a triangle. Then, from the point of the first triangle (now at the bottom left corner of the dough), I measure 2 inches, cut at a diagonal from the third inch, and end at the base of the first croissant. Go back and forth like this until you've made all eighteen croissants. I made a video of myself doing this! I will say, this makes pretty large croissants and you could easily get away with a 2-inch base. If there is leftover dough keep it, roll chocolate inside each piece, douse them in cinnamon sugar, and bake a little pull apart croissant bread.
*NOTE: If you'd like to add chocolate, you can also cut dough into a long rectangle and do a jelly roll. You can add chocolate in the classic croissant shape, which is what I do, but it does make it a bit harder to keep the chocolate from falling out.
After you've divided the dough, it's time to shape the croissants. With each croissant, start at the base, cut a small line in the middle of the base, and roll toward the point. Turn the ends of the croissant inward, toward each other, to get the crescent shape. Place on baking sheet with silicon mat.
This should make about 18 croissants if you did a 3-inch base, more if you made smaller croissants. If you are baking the croissants immediately, break 2 eggs, add 2 tablespoons of milk, and use a pastry brush to apply the egg wash to each croissant. Proof at room temperature for 2 - 3 hours, until double in size. The croissants should wobble when you shake the tray and you should be able to see the layers you created at this stage.
*NOTE: Rather than proofing immediately, you can also tightly wrap or package the croissants in a freezer-safe bag or container after shaping them and freeze for up to six months. To bake, remove from the refrigerator and let proof at room temperature for at least 8 hours (great to do at night and have fresh croissants in the morning!).
At least thirty minutes before baking croissants, preheat oven to 450. Ten minutes before baking, give the croissants a second coating of the egg wash.
Bake: 30 - 45 minutes
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees.
When croissants are ready, place in the oven and immediately lower oven temperature to 400. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, then quickly rotate tray to ensure an even bake. Bake another 15 to 20 minutes. The tricky part here is making sure that the croissants don't become too brown on the outside, while also ensuring the center of the croissant is cooked all the way through. If you have rip into one, maybe even take a bite, to be sure, it's for a good cause!
*NOTE: It's normal for a certain amount of the butter to pool out of the croissant at this point. You don't want the baking tray to look like a swimming pool, but don't be worried if you see some small leakage.